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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Museum of LGBTQ+ Art, History, and Culture to open in Boston

Jean Dolin in front of his “Portraits of Pride” exhibit. (Photo courtesy of Jean Dolin)

In a time when he says LGBTQ+ identities are facing hostility and erasure—specifically through book bans and anti-transgender legislation—art curator Jean Dolin centers his work around amplifying LGBTQ+ voices and telling their stories. 

“My response to those attacks is finding creative ways to say something about the LGBTQ experience,” Dolin said in an interview with the Beacon.

One way he’s doing this is by founding the Boston LGBTQ+ Museum of Art, History, and Culture, which recently registered with the state as a nonprofit.

After bringing the Portraits of Pride exhibition—which featured large-scale photographs of local LGBTQ+ leaders—to various locations throughout the city in June of 2022 and 2023, Dolin has been working with the museum’s board members to officially launch the initiative. 

The museum’s mission is to “research, collect, conserve, and exhibit all the aspects of LGBTQ+ history in Massachusetts, but also centering the queer artist community here in Boston,” Dolin said. 

Its board includes individuals in the museum space who have worked with the LGBTQ+ community, as well as experts with experience in nonprofits, finance, and law.

In the coming years, Dolin and the museum team will partner with other organizations to create temporary programming throughout Boston to garner an audience, build community connections, and raise funds to eventually establish a permanent collection and location. 

Until then, temporary programming will open around various parts of the city and state as soon as next spring. In addition to another Portraits of Pride display, such programming will include exhibits focused on marriage equality and James Baldwin, whose writing helped propel social movements for civil rights and gay liberation. 

Dolin said having a museum space devoted to LGBTQ+ art, history, and culture is necessary because many people don’t know about the history of related activism in Massachusetts, which was the first state to recognize same-sex marriage. 

“There’s so much LGBTQ history in Massachusetts that needs to be told,” Dolin said. “[Currently], there is nowhere one can go to learn about these things. And so I think the museum will play a role in telling that history and many other aspects of the LGBTQ movement.”

Moreover, Dolin noticed when he curated the Portraits of Pride exhibit that Boston currently lacks art institutions that center LGBTQ+ artists. He aims for the museum to serve as a hub to highlight local artists of queer and transgender identities.

“Art is such a vast world, and that’s why I’m so excited about it,” he said. “The arts can bridge communities; they can heal wounds individually and collectively.”

Senior creative writing major Lydia Prendergast is the co-president of Emerson’s Art Moves club, an organization that brings students together to create, consume, and appreciate art, including events like museum outings and art nights on campus. Prendergast said she is “ecstatic” to hear about the LGBTQ+ museum project.

“This is long overdue—museums are a huge part of Boston, and having one centered on queer lives, especially during this uptick in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, is all the more important,” Prendergast said. “Given the history of Boston’s part in the LGBTQ+ movement, this museum will be a fantastic source of learning for the community.”

She added that visual art plays an important role in educating communities and bringing people together.

“Having spaces dedicated to art in general is magical in itself, but this expands tenfold in terms of the queer community, as art is often used as a coping mechanism and tool for growth,” Prendergast said. “I think the artistic community is one of the few spaces where queer people can feel safe. It promotes self expression, individualism, fluidity—all things integral to the queer experience.”

Prendergast also noted the effect a project like the Boston LGBTQ+ Museum of Art, History, and Culture could have on future generations of local students.

“Can you imagine being a queer kid on a field trip to this museum? And how important that experience could feel?” she said. “I know if I had this museum available to me when I was younger, it would have made me feel so safe in my identity. The effects of that are endless—not only do we teach the younger generations that they can and should explore their identity, but we teach others outside of the community the painful history that has led queer people to where we are today.”

Leonie Bradbury, Emerson’s distinguished curator-in-residence and chair of contemporary art, theory, and practice, said the new museum project is important because much of the visual arts world still focuses mainly on white, male artists.

“Some of that’s changing through exhibitions that feature people of color or LGBTQ people, but it doesn’t always translate to purchasing the works or being in a museum collection,” she said. “That’s kind of a different, deeper layer of the art world.”

She added that some museums have taken steps to improve their representation.

“But to have a museum dedicated to that, I think, is exciting, and I look forward to seeing what that looks like,” Bradbury said. 

The museum’s collection will feature artwork across varied mediums. Some of the pieces may not feature direct commentary on the LGBTQ+ experience but may be created by an LGBTQ-identifying artist, Dolin said.

“Or, maybe the artist is not LGBTQ, but the art speaks to the LGBTQ experience,” he said. “As long as it is uplifting, it is teaching, it’s entertaining, or it’s educating.”

Dolin said that the museum’s permanent location and opening date are yet to be determined, because developing the collection and raising the necessary funds is a yearslong process.

“We’re not going to let not having a permanent space stop us from doing programming, creating opportunities for the community to engage, to learn, and to share space,” he said. “In fact, there’s a part of me that is excited that we don’t have a permanent space because it allows us to go to East Boston and have programming there for up to three months. It allows us to go to Dorchester, to West Roxbury, to do different things in different neighborhoods in partnership with the residents of that neighborhood.”

In curating both temporary programming and the permanent collection, the museum team aims to work alongside the Boston community. 

“We’re not taking the approach of deciding what’s worth an audience, or deciding what’s worth being exhibited,” Dolin said. “We don’t see our role as a gatekeeper at all. We see our role as an institution that is building an infrastructure and when an artist needs that infrastructure, it’s there to serve them.”

Even once a permanent location is established, the museum will prioritize community outreach, Dolin added.

“It’s not going to be this museum where if you don’t go there, you don’t see us,” he said. “[It] will be a museum that, even when we have a permanent space in downtown Boston, we might be involved in Cambridge, we might be involved in a festival happening in Somerville; you might see us doing temporary programming on the cape, or in Lenox, or in Marblehead. We want to be an institution that forges culture.”

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About the Contributor
Maddie Khaw
Maddie Khaw, Assistant News Editor
Maddie Khaw (she/her) is a junior journalism major from Portland, Oregon and serves as the assistant news editor for The Beacon's citywide coverage. In addition to journalism, she is also majoring in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on race, gender, and social justice, and plays on Emerson's women's soccer team.

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